Dear President Obama,
I write to you as a citizen of the United States of America to ask you to pardon Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden for their actions connected to the release of classified documents to the public.
Manning was sentenced recently to 30 years in prison. If Snowden were within the reach of U.S. law, I’m sure he would likely get a similar punishment.
While such punishment is appropriate for our nation’s spies and traitors, it’s clear to me that these two are not such. They are, like Daniel Elsberg, whistleblowers and heroes whose law-breaking was an act of civil disobedience done to expose greater wrong-doing.
We can only be a nation “of the people, by the people and for the people” as long as we, the people, are allowed oversight of what is being done in our name. Our society cannot discuss or make informed choices as voters if critical issues such as the torture of prisoners, widespread surveillance of our phone and internet traffic, extrajudicial killing of civilians and the destruction of evidence are kept hidden from us.
After Snowden’s leaks to the Guardian, you said that you welcome the public discussion of privacy and security. Would that discussion have been possible without those leaks? The answer is no. Senator Ron Wyden tried to start that conversation before the leaks occurred by asking NSA director James Clapper during his testimony before Congress if the agency gathered “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper dissembled, saying “No sir. Not wittingly.” Snowden’s leaks are the only way we know that this is not true.
This is why I am appealing to you to grant clemency for both of these people. They did not hand the information secretly to foreign powers. They did not take action for personal gain, but rather for the benefit of the public and at great personal risk. As to whether the information they uncovered aids our enemies or threatens our interests in the world, I respectfully argue that the uncovering of this information is not nearly as damaging as the actions that have been uncovered. I see their action, though illegal, as heroic effort to expose the wrongdoing of others.
Please, Mr. President, pardon Manning and offer Snowden leniency that would enable him to return home.
Bainbridge Island, Wash.